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September 26, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 4 edition

Who's the best team in the NFC? Here's Jimmy Kempski's take on the conference, including a burial for the Chicago Bears.

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092623JustinFields Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Justin Fields and the Bears are done.

Week 3 of the NFL season is in the books, and we have our first obituary of the season. That would be the dysfunctional Chicago Bears. Let's get right to it.

Obituary: Bears (0-3)


The Bears had a brutal week. To begin, defensive coordinator Alan Williams left the team and he's not coming back. 

So there's that. 

But then also, Justin Fields made comments that he was playing too robotic on gameday. When asked a follow up question on what the cause of his robotic play was, he said "coaching." 

If you listen to the interview in full, it was really an honest and reasonable answer, but also one that a starting quarterback should know that he can't make in a press conference setting. If there's even a whiff of a starting quarterback putting any blame on "coaching" for his poor play, many of the ensuing stories that are going to be written will be ugly.

In his next chat with Bears media, Fields was not pleased with the coverage his words received, and said things like, "It's your guys' job to get clicks," and "Y'all are trying to split us up as a team."

And you know what? There's probably some truth in both of those things, and he's certainly right that when sportswriters cut up small snippets of what he said instead of capturing the message in full, his words seem a lot worse than they actually were. But again, holy s**t, man, what good is going to come from telling the media they're thirsty clickbait artists? Focus on your job, not what people are saying about you.

Looking back at the offseason, a common argument for Justin Fields' potential to make a big leap in his third year in the NFL was that Jalen Hurts did just that in 2022. Well, guess what... Justin Fields ain't Jalen Hurts. Not even close. Not as a player. Certainly not as a leader.

The Bears play in a weak division, and they're already done after three games.




15) Panthers (0-3): I considered killing off the Panthers this week in addition to the Bears, but since Carolina plays the Vikings Week 4, I figure I'll just eulogize whichever team loses that game. Let's save the good stuff for then.

Last week: 14


14) Cardinals (1-2): So I guess the Cardinals aren't the worst team in the NFL after all. 🤷‍♂️

Of course, if anyone other than Caleb Williams is Arizona's Week 1 starter in 2024, that's probably a bad outcome for them.

Last week: 16


13) Giants (1-2): A common sentiment after the Giants' loss to the 49ers Thursday night was that they played hard, didn't back down, and could build on their performance. For example. The Giants were without Saquon Barkley and Andrew Thomas, so I kinda get it, I guess. But, uh, they also lost 30-12, and couldn't tackle.

Sure, Deebo Samuel and the Niners' offensive skill players a great at getting yards after the catch, but plays like the one above happened all night. According to the NFL's NextGen stats, "The 49ers gained 215 of their 310 passing yards after the catch (69.4%) in their 30-12 victory over the Giants."

If the NFL were a two-hand touch league, the Giants might have played a closer game. But, you know, it's not.

Oh, and the Giants also have zero takeaways this season.

Last week: 13


12) Vikings (0-3): With 3:40 left in their game against the Chargers, the Vikings had a 2nd and Goal from the 1. They did not run a QB sneak, likely because their interior offensive line stinks, and also because Kirk Cousins, you know... isn't built for sneaks. Instead, they called a run to Alexander Mattison for a loss of 1, followed by two incomplete passes, and it was a turnover on downs.

On the Chargers' ensuing possession, Brandon Staley elected to go for it on 4th and 1 from his own 24. Again, no QB sneak. Instead, they called a run for Joshua Kelley, their backup running back who at that point had 10 carries for 12 yards on the day. They didn't get, and the Vikings had new life.

With 41 seconds left, on a 4th and 5 from the Chargers' 15 and no timeouts, the Vikings converted with a 9-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson. Any sane team would hurry up to the line to spike it, and have plenty of time to take three shots into the end zone. Or maybe if Cousins and Justin Jefferson wanted to run some sort of wink wink hurry up fake spike fade route that they've worked on in practice and it only takes an extra three or four seconds to run instead of clocking the ball... fine. 

What did the Vikings do? They stood around leaderless while a couple dozen second ticked off the clock...

Pathetic, lol. The Chargers did their best to Charger this game away, but the Vikings just Viking'd a little harder.

Cousins has some crazy stats so far this season:

Kirk Cousins Comp-Att (Comp %) Yards (YPA) TD-INT Rating 
Buccaneers 33-44 (75.0%) 344 (7.8) 2-1 102.8 
Eagles 31-44 (70.5%) 364 (8.3) 4-0 125.6 
Chargers 32-50 (64.0%) 367 (7.3) 3-1 97.7 
TOTAL 96-138 (69.6%)1075 (7.8) 9-2 108.2 

But Sunday was a perfect example of why you don't want Kirk Cousins to be your franchise quarterback.

Last week: 12


11) Commanders (2-1): Sam Howell had a rough day. INT No. 1:

INT No. 2: 

INT No. 3: 

Aaaaand INT No. 4: 

Almost as alarming as the INTs was that Howell was sacked nine times and was hit 15 times. Awful performance by the offensive line. On the season, the Commanders have allowed 19 sacks, most in the NFL with a 6-sack cushion.

Last week: 11


10) Rams (1-2): I'll be honest. I didn't see a second of the Rams' Monday night game against the Bengals, but you're not going to win many games when you go 1/11 on third down.

This isn't a bad team, though. They have played three teams that made the playoffs in 2022 and they have a positive point differential.

Last week: 8


9) Buccaneers (2-1): When the NFL schedule came out in May, this game felt like a "no doubt about it" W for the Eagles. It was enlightening getting to know the Bucs this week, who were a lot better than I thought they were a month ago. They have talented players on both sides of the ball, and it's my understanding that the Eagles felt that this defense was the best they had to prepare for this season, which comes as a surprise to me since the Patriots are pretty good, too.

But ultimately they have no run game whatsoever and they got absolutely worked in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Can they win the NFC South? If some things fall the right way, sure. Are they Super Bowl contenders? God no.

Last week: 10


8) Saints (2-1): Derek Carr got slammed to the turf by Rashan Gary. This looked like it hurt a little bit:

It appears to be an AC sprain, according to Ian Rapoport. If that sounds familiar, it's what Jalen Hurts suffered against the Bears last season, though his was a severe case. The Saints have road games the next two weeks against the Patriots and the improved Texans.

Carr is a mediocre quarterback, but he sure as hell is better than Jameis Winston.

Last week: 7


7) Falcons (2-1): The way to defend the Falcons feels pretty clear. Pack the box, stop the run, send heavy pressure, and make Desmond Ridder beat you down the field with quick decisions.

Last week: 4


6) Packers (2-1): With the Bears' season already in the toilet and the Vikings out to an 0-3 start, Lions at Packers Week 4 is a huge early season matchup in the NFC North. If the Packers can take care of business at home, they have a lot of junk on their schedule thereafter:

• Week 5: At Raiders
• Week 6: BYE
• Week 7: At Broncos
• Week 8: Vikings
• Week 9: Rams

Last week: 6


5) Seahawks (2-1): The Seahawks have scored 37 points in each of their last two games. They seem to be back on their "frisky NFC Tier 2 team" track after a bad performance Week 1.

Last week: 9


4) Lions (2-1): The best argument for the Lions' staying power at the top of the NFC "Tier 2 teams" is this:

There's a whole lot of awful interior offensive line play out there, and the Lions a rare team that is stout up the middle. (They have good tackles, too.)

Last week: 5


3) Cowboys (2-1): If I were a Cowboys fan, the biggest concern I would have after the loss to the Cardinals is the run defense. The Cardinals rushed 30 times for 222 yards (7.4 YPC) and 2 TDs, and it's not as if they employ Walter Payton. The Cowboys' two biggest obstacles in the NFC are the Eagles and 49ers, both of whom can run the crap out of the ball. Those two teams are why the Cowboys selected Mazi Smith in the first round of the 2023 draft.

Secondarily, I'd be worried about Tony Pollard's workload. This offseason Mike McCarthy canned Kellen Moore and took over play calling duties, vowing to run the ball a lot more. He also hired notoriously run-heavy offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. There was some debate over whether the Cowboys would actually be as run heavy as McCarthy promised, and, uh, yep, they are.

Tony Pollard is on pace for 419 touches this season. He has never had a truly heavy workload in his college or NFL careers:

Tony Pollard Touches Touches per game 
2016 (Memphis) 60 4.6 
2017 (Memphis) 66 5.1 
2018 (Memphis) 117 8.4 
2019 (Dallas) 101 6.7 
2020 (Dallas) 129 8.1 
2021 (Dallas) 175 10.9 
2022 (Dallas) 258 14.3 
2023 (Dallas) 74 (on pace for 419) 24.7 

To put that his 419-touch pace in perspective, the Cowboys ran Ezekiel Elliott into the ground, and Zeke's single-season high (regular season only) was 381 touches.

During the telecast, Moose Johnston made an asinine comment that the Cowboys have a great group of running backs, citing backups Rico Dowdle and Deuce Vaughn as the reasons why. Heading into their matchup with the Cardinals, those two guys had a combined 29 career carries for 98 yards, lol. If the Cowboys wear out Pollard or he gets hurt they won't have a legitimate run game.

Last week: 1


2) Eagles (3-0): NFL rushing yardage differentials:

Team Rush yards Rush yards allowed Differential 
Eagles 557 145 +412 
49ers 488 159 +329 
Browns 482 156 +326 
Ravens 474 277 +197 
Dolphins 565 390 +175 
Lions 335 216 +119 
Bills 448 332 +116 
Seahawks 313 238 +75 
Cardinals 469 404 +65 
Titans 271 208 +63 
Cowboys 441 394 +47 
Jaguars 295 252 +43 
Patriots 321 280 +41 
Chiefs 344 308 +36 
Falcons 385 353 +32 
Colts 330 343 -13 
Chargers 324 341 -17 
Saints 280 299 -19 
Rams 252 311 -59 
Bears 305 365 -60 
Commanders 319 386 -67 
Buccaneers 234 309 -75 
Panthers 298 410 -112 
Jets 274 388 -114 
Packers 271 410 -139 
Texans 210 352 -142 
Giants 264 414 -150 
Vikings 199 362 -163 
Raiders 185 382 -197 
Bengals 208 455 -247 
Broncos 285 533 -248 
Steelers 201 455 -254 

Last week: 3


1) 49ers (3-0): The 49ers play the Cardinals Week 4. It's weird that the Cardinals have played each of the Eagles' NFC East rivals the first three weeks of the season, and then arguably their biggest threat in the NFC. After this week, Eagles fans can go back to hating on Jonathan Gannon full time.

As for the Niners' Thursday night game Week 3, Brock Purdy eventually settled down, but he looked pretttayyyy pretttaaaayyyy shaky to start. 

The Niners have been the most impressive NFC team so far. I'll be interested to see what they look like against a good team.

Last week: 2

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